Seven months of unrest in Syria approached the brink of all-out armed conflict Monday as 41 people were killed, among them 11 soldiers who clashed with organized army defectors.
Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged Assad to immediately stop the killings of civilians, a day after the Arab League called for “national dialogue” to end the violence.
“There are continuous killings of civilian people. These killings must stop immediately,” Ban said in Bern.
“I told Assad: ‘Stop before it is too late,’” he said.
“It is unacceptable that 3,000 people have been killed. The U.N. is urging him again to take urgent action.”
But according to Reuters, Assad's government, despite heavy pressure from the Arab League and sanctions from the West that has forced it to reduce oil production, has only ramped up its blitzkrieg style hit-and-run crackdown.
Tuesday's violence was focused in the flashpoint city of Homs where Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP in Nicosia 27 people, most of them civilians but some of them police were killed.
Three other civilians, including a 13-year-old boy, were also shot dead in other parts of the country, the Britain-based Observatory said.
“Gunmen suspected of being army defectors blew up a bomb by remote control as an army vehicle passed by Ehssem in the countryside of the [northwestern province of Idlib], killing an officer and three soldiers, and wounding others," Rahman said.
The Britain-based group also said another seven soldiers were killed in clashes with gunmen suspected too of being army defectors in the flashpoint central province of Homs.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera by telephone that scores of soldiers loyal to Assad were also wounded in confrontations Monday with suspected army defectors, including at least 17 in Idlib province.
Organized armed resistance to Assad by two nascent brigades of army defectors led by renegade Syrian Air Force General Riad Assad in Turkey has been slowly gaining steam in recent weeks.
While observers say the forces are not strong enough to break Assad's grip on power in of themselves, they could form the nucleus of a broader popular armed rising.
For the present, however, it is likely Assad's commanders find they are forced to exercise greater caution during their punitive raids on dissidents in many areas.